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Monday Jul 23 2018

LHC rejects Sheikh Rasheed's plea against delay of NA-60 Rawalpindi election


RAWALPINDI: The Lahore High Court's Rawalpindi Bench Monday rejected Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rasheed's plea challenging the Election Commission of Pakistan's decision to postpone election in the city's NA-60 constituency.

The ECP had postponed polling after the arrest and disqualification of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) Hanif Abbasi, Rasheed’s main contender for the seat, in the ephedrine quota case last week.

Justice Mujahid Mustaqeem of LHC's Rawalpindi Bench upheld the ECP's decision to postpone polling in NA-60 Rawalpindi.

In his response to the verdict, Rasheed said that they were prepared for the election and would approach the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the LHC verdict on Tuesday.

Submitting a petition through his counsel Sardar Abdul Razzaq earlier, Rasheed contended that election cannot be postponed due to the sentencing of a candidate.

Rasheed stated in the petition that elections in the constituencies of PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz and Capt (retd) Safdar were not postponed when they were jailed in the Avenfield properties reference earlier this month.

The petition has named the ECP and NA-60 returning officer as respondents. 

LHC Justice Mujahid Mustaqeem conducted today's proceedings where the ECP counsel opposed Rasheed's plea. 

Round and round

The AML chief spent all morning waiting at the LHC and then shuttled between the twin cities in an attempt to ensure his plea is taken up today.

After waiting helplessly at the high court, the AML chief approached the Supreme Court where he submitted his petition. 

Talking to the media, Rasheed said he waited for five hours at the LHC but the registrar failed to fix his petition for hearing. He expressed hope that the Supreme Court will hear his petition today. 

Sheikh Rasheed smokes a cigar as waits at the LHC today. Photo: Geo News 

However, in a press talk outside the top court later, Rasheed said he is now heading back to the LHC as it appears his petition is being fixed for hearing now. 

PPP petitions IHC 

Separately, Pakistan Peoples Party's candidate on NA-60, Mukhtar Abbas, also challenged the ECP decision in the Islamabad High Court on Monday on similar grounds. 

Taking up the plea, Justice Aamer Farooq issued notice to the ECP seeking a reply by tomorro and adjourned the hearing. 

Presenting arguments, the PPP candidate's counsel stated that candidates in six constituencies across the country were disqualified but polling was not delayed there. 

During the proceedings, the judge wondered what would happen if polling is held since the ballot papers for the constituency include Abbasi's name. 

Rasheed terms ECP move unconstitutional 

Addressing party supporters in Rawalpindi's Liaquat Bagh Sunday night, Rasheed claimed that according to the Election Act 2017, polling cannot be postponed unless a candidate dies. 

Earlier, he had demanded that Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar take notice of the postponement of election in NA-60.

"Hanif Abbasi was sentenced in a contraband smuggling case," he told supporters, claiming that the ECP took an unconstitutional step to delay the polls, labelling the move a conspiracy.

Other than NA-60, Rasheed is contesting the July 25 general election from Rawalpindi's NA-62 constituency as well. 

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, being Rasheed's ally, has not fielded candidates in any of Rasheed's constituencies. 

A special anti-narcotics court sentenced Abbasi to life in the ephedrine quota case late Saturday, just four days before the general election in the country. The PML-N leader was taken into custody from the courtroom soon after the judge announced the verdict.

'ECP bound to provide level-playing field'

Following the verdict, the ECP issued a statement on Sunday: "Only two days are left to the conduct of polls when Mr Hanif Abbasi, a potential candidate from NA-60 Rawalpindi-IV, has been disqualified, which has resulted in heated debate in the media and political circles rendering the atmosphere as fully and negatively charged.” 

“The ECP having taken cognisance of all the attending circumstances is bound to provide level playing field to the contestants, under the Constitution and the law, particularly Section 4 of the Elections Act 2017 read with Article 218(3) of the Constitution and the powers of the Commission defined by the august Supreme Court of Pakistan in famous Workers Party case, and further in order to do complete justice between the contestants and the parties, the ECP directs that the general elections 2018 in NA-60 Rawalpindi IV is postponed.,” it stated further.

Polls postponed in other constituencies

According to Section 73 of the Election Act, 2017, “If a contesting candidate dies before commencement of the poll or during the polling hours, the returning officer shall, by public notice, terminate the proceedings relating to that election.”

Due to the law, polls have also been delayed in PS-87 Malir following death of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan candidate Sharif Ahmed Khan in a road accident, PK-78 Peshawar after the death of ANP candidate Haroon Bilour in a suicide attack and NA-103 and PP-103 constituencies of Faisalabad due to the death of independent candidate Mirza Mughal.

Elections were also delayed in PB-35 Mastung after a deadly suicide blast which claimed over 149 lives including that of BAP candidate Nawab Siraj Raisani.

Polls have also been postponed in PP-87 Mianwali after the death of Ahmed Khan, a candidate of Pakistan Justice and Democratic Party.